As players all over the globe will readily attest, the lifeblood of a professional orchestral musician does not always flow as freely as the iconic music it stands to serve.
Political concerns, union scales and tenure contracts are just a few of the obstacles marring the path between artists and their truest sense of purpose.
The World Civic Orchestra & Choir is an ensemble transcendent of that phenomenon, with over 150 members--equally divided between a full choir and full orchestra--composed of creative professionals (professional musicians, that is, alongside high-level and passionate enthusiasts) hailing from all walks of life, various cities, countries and continents. Together they will perform in celebration upon the world's most prestigious stage: the Isaac Stern Auditorium at New York's famed Carnegie Hall.
Notes On The Road recently had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Vincent Koh, a prominent Oncologist and Hematologist who has brought his artistic vision to life as the Music Director and Conductor of the World Civic Orchestra & Choir. Maestro Koh shared with admirable candor on his life, inspirations and his unwavering belief in the power of music as a universal language.
The members of the WCO, united in their cause, are living, breathing testaments against cynical cliché, who will be lauded upon the threshold of their debut as much for their performance as for their bravery and humanity.
June 20, 2010, 2:00 PM - Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage - Program: Dana Wilson "We Must Prevail" (world premiere!); Samuel Barber "Adagio for Strings"; George Gershwin's "Summertime"; Ludwig van Beethoven "Symphony No. 9 'Choral'"
What was your creative inspiration behind starting the World Civic Orchestra & Choir?
It was a combination of personal and social experiences. I am a Korean, but was born and raised in Japan and historically, Japan and Korea has had a volatile relationship, much of which is rooted in Japan's annexation of Korea during World War II.
So I grew up in Japan with a sense of prejudice and discrimination against me. This experience left a scar in my heart, making me feel as though I were an inferior and unwanted member of society. I grew up with little self-confidence and in a society where there was not a role model to look up to outside of my family.
As a result, I ended up having conflicting emotions about the country of my birth. At one point, I hated everything Japanese as much as I craved to be Japanese.
After immigrating to the U.S., I found that this kind of attitude does not make the situation any better, both personally and socially. Trying to survive in a multi-racial climate in the U.S. made me rethink my views as well. Also, my wife Milly, whose back ground is the same as mine, started a Japanese-U.S. sister city program almost twenty years ago and has remained very active over the years. Seeing her work hard to educate people from both countries about the culture of the other in spite of the fact that we aren't either Japanese or American was at first very painful, but ultimately a good eye-opening experience for me.
I have been very interested in Middle Eastern culture for many years and have traveled to countries such as Afghanistan and Iran 40 years ago, long before the Russian invasion or the oil boom. So watching the current political situations unravel in these countries breaks my heart. I also have many close Jewish friends. So I feel like facing two tall walls in front of me. The attacks on the World Trade Center symbolized what was going on inside myself then. It took many years before I could put these thoughts together.
The concept of The World Civic Orchestra is the end product of this personal journey. There is no orchestra with a message quite like ours, which is to convey to people the ability to understand and accept our inherent differences that apply to all different aspects of life.
I believe the world we live in now needs to address this aspect more in the age of the internet, which has stirred up as much conflict as it does encourage understanding. I believe that to improve any situation, one has to go to the next level.
Who currently makes up the World Civic Orchestra & Choir?
Anyone who applied for membership and shares the same mission and interest as the orchestra. We welcome professional, semi-professional and serious amateur musicians who have extensive experience playing in orchestras.
Presently, most of the participants are from the U.S. with some from Europe and Asia. One of our long-term goals is to bring together a more diverse group of people from all over the world so that we can convey our message to a wider group of people.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you select repertoire for the ensemble?
The selection of the program for the inaugural concert was symbolic of our mission and the process. The first piece " We Must Prevail" composed by Dana Wilson was specially written by him for the occasion. This piece symbolizes our mission that says we need to look to the next level of human civilization
The second piece "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber is a tribute to tragic events of the past and the reconciliation and healing process.
And finally, no other piece symbolizes the voice, dream and the beauty of humanity more than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
We noticed you have a Professional Coaches series. Can you tell us a little bit about your educational initiatives?
We believe today's youth lacks the opportunity to listen to classical music, let alone attend a concert and providing such an opportunity is one of our main goals. Future functions will include mixed generational performances, young people's concerts, hands on teaching, etc. but all of those initiatives take time to develop.
Where would you like to see the WCO go, in terms of growth?
Concerts offer only a limited amount of exposure to convey our message. Besides holding various concerts around the world, I would like to develop a network of people and organizations so that the word can be spread from our core group.
Musically, we are interested in exploring diverse cultural and ethnic music outside the traditional realm of classical music. Also there is a great need to fuse classical music with other genres such as pop, jazz, rock, etc. Another one of our long-term goals is to play at the "World Music Fair" in Morocco or perform at a temple in Asia.
Talk to us about your Carnegie Hall debut!
Do you know of anyone who has not heard of Carnegie Hall? This says everything. It is not about playing in just any concert hall. You are going to be a part of the hall's history, its glorious past. Yes, we are not going to be at the same level as Heifetz or Horowitz, for sure.
But performing with strong motivation, passion, and love for their goal is behind every legendary musician and his performance, and that is something we share in common. In other words, as the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin once said: " I love to perform for the sake of loving it."